The Monignor Juan Gerardi Award
Monsignor Juan José Gerardi Conedera (27 December 1922 – 26 April 1998) was a Guatemalan Roman Catholic bishop and human rights defender who was long active in working with the indigenous Mayan peoples of the country. In the 1970s he gained government recognition of indigenous languages as official languages, and helped secure permission for radio stations to broadcast in indigenous languages. In 1988 he was appointed to the government's National Reconciliation Commission, to begin the process of accounting for abuses during the civil war.
He also worked on the associated Recovery of Historical Memory Project (REMHI) sponsored by the Catholic Church. Two days after he announced the release of its report on victims of the Guatemalan Civil War, Guatemala: Nunca Más!, in April 1998, Bishop Gerardi was attacked in his garage and assassinated.
2014 Awards Recipient: Padre Wendell Verrill
Padre Wendell was ordained a priest in 1963 at Holy Cross Cathedral in Boston where he later served the Latino community for 18 years. Eight of those years he also served as director of El Centro del Cardenal, a social service agency for Latinos in the South End of Boston.
Prior to this Padre Wendell served in Peru and Bolivia as a missionary with the St. James Society which is where he learned Spanish. During his time at the Cathedral he also contributed articles to the Catholic newspaper, the Pilot, and for 10 years contributed a weekly column in Spanish to La Semana, a weekly newspaper based in Boston. He also provided radio programs in Spanish and produced over 200 half-hour television programs in Spanish for Catholic TV, a cable network.
In 1994 Padre Wendell was asked to serve as pastor of St. Mary Parish in Waltham which had a growing Hispanic population. He was pastor for 12 years during which time the Guatemalan community grew rapidly.
Due to health issues he resigned as pastor in 2006 and retired to Hingham, MA. He continues to serve the Latino community in retirement, most notably as the regular celebrant of the Sunday Mass in Spanish at St. Mark Church in Dorchester since 2009.
In 2012 Padre Wendell visited Guatemala for 12 days as part of a pilgrimage and retreat experience focusing on the martyrs of Guatemala and El Salvador. He also serves on the board of directors of Only A Child, a grass-roots program serving abandoned children in Guatemala City begun and directed by Waltham resident, George Leger.
For his unwavering service to the Guatemalan community, Casa Guatemala is proud to present Padre Wendell Verrill with the Monsignor Juan Gerardi Award.
The Rigoberta Menchu Award for an Oustanding Guatemalan Woman
Rigoberta Menchú Tum (born 9 January 1959) is an indigenous Guatemalan woman, of the K'iche' ethnic group. Menchú has dedicated her life to publicizing the plight of Guatemala's indigenous peoples during and after the Guatemalan Civil War (1960–1996), and to promoting indigenous rights in the country. She has also been a prominent figure in the women's rights movement .
During the Guatemalan Civil War, Menchu's entire family was killed. Prompted by injustices commited against indigenous peasant farmers, Menchu became a prominent member of the Committee of the Peasant Union (CUC).
n 1980, she figured prominently in a strike the CUC organized for better conditions for farm workers on the Pacific coast, and on May 1, 1981, she was active in large demonstrations in the capital. She joined the radical 31st of January Popular Front, in which her contribution chiefly consisted of educating the Indian peasant population in resistance to massive military oppression.
In 1981, Rigoberta Menchú had to go into hiding in Guatemala, and then flee to Mexico. That marked the beginning of a new phase in her life: as the organizer abroad of resistance to oppression in Guatemala and the struggle for Indian peasant peoples' rights. In 1982, she took part in the founding of the joint opposition body, The United Representation of the Guatemalan Opposition (RUOG).
She told her story in the book, I, Rigoberta Menchú, a gripping human document which attracted considerable international attention. In 1986, Rigoberta Menchú became a member of the National Coordinating Committee of the CUC, and the following year she performed as the narrator in a powerful film called When the Mountains Tremble, about the struggles and sufferings of the Maya people. On at least three occasions, Rigoberta Menchú has returned to Guatemala to plead the cause of the Indian peasants, but death threats have forced her to return into exile.
Over the years, Rigoberta Menchú has become widely known as a leading advocate of Indian rights and ethno-cultural reconciliation, not only in Guatemala but in the Western Hemisphere generally, and her work has earned her several international awards.
In 1992 she received the Nobel Peace Prize and the Prince of Asturias Award in 1998. She is the subject of the testimonial biography I, Rigoberta Menchú (1983) and the author of the autobiographical work, Crossing Borders.
Menchú is a UNESCO Goodwill Ambassador. She has also become a figure in indigenous political parties and ran for President of Guatemala in 2007 and 2011.
2014 Award Winner: Jenn De Leon
Jennifer De Leon is a Jamaica Plain-born and Framingham-raised, Guatemalan author. Her book, “Wise Latinas: Writers on Higher Education,” has been selected by the Huffington Post as one of “The Ten Books That Could Change Your Graduating Senior (And Their World!).”
She is the winner of the 2011 Fourth Genre Michael Steinberg Essay Prize. Her stories and essays have appeared in Ploughshares, Brevity, Ms., Briar Cliff Review, Poets &Writers, Guernica, Best Women’s Travel Writing, and elsewhere.
She has published author interviews in Granta and Agni, and she has been awarded scholarships and residencies from the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference, Hedgebrook, Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Vermont Studio Center, Blue Mountain Center, and the Macondo Writers’ Workshop. She was born in the Boston area to Guatemalan parents.
After graduating from Connecticut College, she moved to San Jose, California, where she taught elementary school as part of the Teach for America program and earned a master’s in teaching from the University of San Francisco’s Center for Teaching Excellence and Social Justice.
After moving back to Boston, she designed college access programs and mentored first-generation college students and then earned an MFA in fiction from the University of Massachusetts–Boston. Currently she teaches at Grub Street and at the Boston Teachers Union School in Jamaica Plain. She is working on a memoir and a novel.
For her excellence in writing and support of women's rights, Casa Guatemala is proud to honor Jenn De Leon with the Rigoberta Menchu Award for an Outstanding Guatemalan Woman.
The Miguel Angel Asturias Award
Miguel Angel Asturias Rosales (October 19, 1899 – June 9, 1974) was a Nobel Prize-winning Guatemalan poet-diplomat, novelist, playwright and journalist. Asturias helped establish Latin American literature's contribution to mainstream Western culture, and at the same time drew attention to the importance of indigenous cultures, especially those of his native Guatemala.
Asturias was born and raised in Guatemala though he lived a significant part of his adult life abroad. He first lived in Paris in the 1920s where he studied ethnology. Some scholars view him as the first Latin American novelist to show how the study of anthropology and linguistics could affect the writing of literature. While in Paris, Asturias also associated with the Surrealist movement, and he is credited with introducing many features of modernist style into Latin American letters. In this way, he is an important precursor of the Latin American Boom of the 1960s and 1970s.
One of Asturias' most famous novels, El Señor Presidente, describes life under a ruthless dictator. Asturias' very public opposition to dictatorial rule led to him spending much of his later life in exile, both in South America and in Europe. The book that is sometimes described as his masterpiece, Hombres de maíz (Men of Maize), is a defense of Mayan culture and customs. Asturias combined his extensive knowledge of Mayan beliefs with his political convictions, channeling them into a life of commitment and solidarity. His work is often identified with the social and moral aspirations of the Guatemalan people.
After decades of exile and marginalization, Asturias finally received broad recognition in the 1960s. In 1966, he won the Soviet Union's Lenin Peace Prize. The following year he was awarded the Nobel Prize for Literature, only the second Latin American to receive this honor. Asturias spent his final years in Madrid, where he died at the age of 74. He is buried in the Père Lachaise Cemetery in Paris.
2014 Award Recipient: TBD
The Miguel Angel Asturias award will be given to an outstanding student of Guatemalan heritage. To be eligible, the student must be nominated by a teacher and meet high academic standards.